Protecting yourself in extremely hot weather

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

Last weekend temperatures climbed over 100 degrees in 22 states, and this week one of the main facts of many cities is that this is one of the hottest summers ever.

The Center for Disease Control reported that extreme heat kills more people than any other weather condition.

This fact is cause for concern for everyone, especially the elderly, because Hampton Roads and surrounding areas are experiencing temperatures over 90 degrees, causing the heat index to reach triple-digit temperatures.


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Heat exhaustion can happen to anyone, no matter what age you are. It did to me on July 12, 1981.

For our son Mark’s 10th birthday, my late husband James and I decided to treat him to couple of days at King’s Dominion. We went to the park at 10 a.m. and the heat had already reached 90 degrees. After an hour, we decided to go on the monorail ride and the line was already long. After standing in it for about 10 minutes I realized that we were about halfway to the ride with the same number of people in front of us as there were behind us. I began to feel faint, fatigued; my heart began to race and I began to have difficulty breathing. I realized later that these were all the signs of an approaching heat stroke from heat exhaustion. I fainted, and an ambulance was called to take me to a first-aid facility. The attack took me by surprise, as it usually does, with no warning.

I later learned that if a person is on a diuretic from high blood pressure, like I was, it is very dangerous to be in this kind of heat because I was probably dehydrated. Since that summer I have paid more attention to signs and prevention of heat stroke from heat exhaustion. Last Saturday I learned additional information about the signs and prevention of heat exhaustion from the ABC Good Morning America Show. I was already aware of some of them. Dr. Frank McGeorge, an emergency room doctor in a New York hospital, gave those following tips:

* Two major signs that can lead to heat exhaustion are dehydration and continuing to exert yourself when you really should cut back after experiencing signs.

* Before, or when you begin to feel signs of heat exhaustion, put an ice pack on the neck, because that is where you have a lot of large blood vessels that are very close to the surface of the skin. These blood vessels and blood supply can then cool down very quickly, especially those going to your brain.

It’s bad to put it on the head or chest because a lot of bone is in the head and muscle in the chest that can slow the cooling process down.

* Elderly and obese people, and those with high blood pressure or diabetes, who are not well-hydrated and exert themselves in the heat, may go down in 15 to 30 minutes. For a conditioned athlete, who after exerting himself and not drinking enough fluid, it may take a couple of hours to wear down in 90-degree temperatures with high humidity.

The common thing is humidity, which is a big problem this time of year.

You should drink plenty of water, but the experts say the temperature of the water should be slightly cold instead of ice cold, because you want to be able to do it quickly.

I am a person who finds it hard at times to drink water; therefore, most of the time I force myself to do it.

But I have an alternative, I love watermelon. I found out about two weeks ago from a dietician on the previously mentioned morning show that this food item has many advantages. It is a fruit and the rind is sometimes used as a vegetable, it is a good hydration source, it is rich in vitamin C, it contains no calories because it is naturally sweetened and it is a good source of fiber.

Wall is a former News-Herald reporter.